In this paper, I offer an account of social alienation, a genre of alienation engendered by contemporary work that has gone largely overlooked in the ethics of labor. Social alienation consists in a corruption of workers’ relations to their social life and the people that make it up. When one is socially alienated, one’s sociality and close relations exist as a mere afterthought or break from work, while labor is the central activity of one’s life. While one might think that existing solutions to alienated labor would resolve this social alienation, I suggest that such solutions at best leave the problem intact and may in fact contribute to it by giving labor the place of priority in workers’ lives. Resolving social alienation, I suggest, requires rethinking the amount of time we commit to work, the rigidity of the work schedule, and most crucially, the value that we attribute to work as the primary source of purpose in our lives.
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I'd like to thank audiences at UC Boulder, UNC Charlotte, Tilburg University, and the Eastern APA for their helpful feedback on previous versions of this paper. Thanks also to Kenneth Baynes, Charles Prusik, Nicole Whalen, and two anonymous reviewers for detailed comments that significantly improved the paper. And thanks especially to Keshav Singh for encouraging me to pursue this project and for loads of thoughtful comments and conversations along the way.
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Bousquet, C. Work and social alienation. Philos Stud 180, 133–158 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11098-022-01880-9